Realistic 3D printed concrete coral reefs
Called 3D Innovareef, researchers at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand developed a ‘Lego-like’ system of 3D printed concrete modules with the aim to accelerate the recovery of coral reefs.
Coral reefs in Thai seas have been gradually deteriorating due to global warming and human activities. To restore these, artificial reefs have commonly been made from used car tires, PVC pipes, and concrete cubes. These are not ideal, especially plastic-based products, as they eventually degrade and pollute the water with microplastics. In addition, these types of reefs often get submerged into the sand.
To create an artificial reef that blends in more with nature, the Chulalongkorn researchers modelled their reefs after natural ones. They selected concrete with a pH value that is close to that of seawater. The design concept is that of Lego, to easily assemble and disassemble blocks. The design is resistant to tidal waves and does not get submerged into the sand.
To help the growth of new coral, the artificial reef is coated with calcium and phosphate nutrients that coral needs to thrive. The flat surfaces accommodate the settlement of planula, the baby coral. Holes and cavities serve as habitats and hiding places for fish and other aquatic life.
While the team only created one prototype as of yet, they aim to use this to design other types of reef, like brain coral, barrel sponge, and marine sponge in various sizes.
Photos: Chulalongkorn University